'Intelligent' Weight Gain is on Casey Toohill's Plate

John McMullen

If you rewind to the 2020 NFL Draft, you'll notice that Howie Roseman and Andy Weidl were working with a template.

According to the NextGenStats, the Eagles personnel department prioritized athleticism more than anyone else in the league with each of their first four picks scoring 80-plus on its NGS athleticism scale.

The entire Eagles draft class averaged an NFL-best 85 athleticism score, excluding the two offensive linemen (Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho) selected.

The most physically gifted of all over the three-day process was Stanford edge rusher Casey Toohill, who was the 233rd overall pick and earned a max athleticism score of 99 per NGS.

So why was a player that gifted and that athletic closer to being Mr. Irrelevant than a first-round pick like Jalen Reagor?

Well, at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds you can quickly envision Toohill being put on skates by the Tyron Smiths of the world.

For many scouts, Toohill was regarded as a tweener, a little too light to hold the edge in run support against top-tier offensive tackles and a little too big to be chasing running backs and flex tight ends in the modern passing game as a SAM linebacker.

The goal for Toohill now is to get bigger and stronger while also keeping the athleticism that made him special at Stanford, a delicate balancing act, to say the least, almost a catch-22.

If Toohill hits the weight room and the protein shakes and gains say 30 pounds in all the right places, it's almost inconceivable he'll retain the same explosion.

For now, it's baby steps and the San Diego native is up to 255 pounds with the goal of putting on another five to 10 pounds. The added problem there is that players typically lose weight during training camp.

“I think I want to be as heavy as I can and retain my athleticism,” said Toohill via Zoom last week. “That kind of sounds like a cop-out answer but it’s true. I’ve already gained weight. I want to continue to but I think it would be a mistake to rush to gain a ton of weight and then maybe feel like I’m slow or not as explosive. Because that’s football, that’s important.”

As you might imagine with a Stanford product, Toohill is very smart and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy (the so-called Academic Heisman) so he is taking the cerebral approach to getting his body ready for the rigors of the NFL.

“I’m just trying to gain (weight) intelligently," said Toohill. "Not put on too much at once. I need to focus a lot on putting on strength as well and meeting with nutritionists and the strength staff and formulating a good plan.”

That sentiment carries over to Toohill's overall skill set as well.

“I think it just comes down to your own habits, your own routine,” he said. “For me, there are many ways to improve and it’s not always just physically on the field. It could be mentally, it could be emotionally, it could be anything like that. You have to self-evaluate.”

As a seventh-round pick, Toohill has also got to open the eyes of the coaching staff, most notably defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive line coach Matt Burke, at a position with a lot of options.

The top three players at DE seem set - Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat - and there are a host of players in the mix for the additional rotational snaps starting with 2019 trade-pickup Genard Avery, 2019 fourth-round pick Shareef Miller, and the returning Joe Ostman, who was on track to make the team last season before he tore his ACL in August. Even veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson could see snaps outside if needed.

Toohill isn't losing any sleep over the daunting depth chart just yet.

“I’m looking forward to just getting to know the veteran D-linemen first and foremost,” he said. “I just want to learn from their wealth of experience, and hopefully form friendships. That’s the first thing on my mind. I know I’ll have to compete but I think my attitude is just to bring my best every day and always improve and then let the chips fall as they may.”

The conventional wisdom is that rookies will have a difficult time in 2020 with less on-field practice time and no preseason games due to the COVID-19 pandemic but head coach Doug Pederson is looking at things a little differently.

"I think that this is actually a good time to be a late-round pick and possibly a free agent, even these young draft picks," said Pederson on Monday. "... We're going to get some really good opportunities here in these next coming weeks. They are going to learn a lot from the veterans.

"The way I have the schedule set up is for them to learn and to be successful. Then once we get into the padded portion of training camp is where we really get to see where these guys are.

"When you have an opportunity like this, it's for all of us as coaches in particular, of coaching everybody up. It's not just about the starters and getting them prepared, which we do every year, but now, more importantly, it's about getting these young guys (prepared) because we truly feel these young guys are going to be the ones who are going to have to help us throughout the entire season."

Another advantage for Toohill is an expanded practice squad. Already set to grow from 10 to 12 under the new CBA it was expanded even further due to the pandemic with 16 being the new number.

The complications on that safety net become the team’s concern, though. If the Eagles can’t find a spot on the 53-man roster for Toohill, they have to get him through waivers before adding him to the PS.

“It’s really just focusing on improving every day and I think if I do that I’ll be happy," Toohill said. "Regardless of what happens, if I know I go in there and improve every day and handle my business, I think that’s a good approach.”

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportMap Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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